Monday, December 31, 2007

Idiom of 2007 for South Korean academic community

In a bout of year-end optimism, The Professors Times (only in Korea) reported it has chosen the four-character Chinese (chéngyǔ 成語) set phrase: jagigiin (自欺欺人) to describe South Koreas not so brilliant economic, political and social situation in 2007. It means to deceive one’s self and others.
The compound was the winning idiom in a survey of 340 professors, including leaders of the national and private university professor councils, from Dec. 15th to 20th.

The selected idiom is an oblique disapproving comment on the scandals involving large-scale forgery of academic credentials, more specifically art curator Shin Jeong-ah
s enhancing of her university degrees, former Korea University president Lee Pil-sangs plagiarism, and the various corporate scandals (or is business as usual?), the latest and not the least of which being the ongoing (and escalating) corruption scandal engulfing Samsung, the peninsulas biggest conglomerate, or chaebol.




This year’ winners: Shin Jeong-ah, Samsung, Hyundai (Chung Mong-koo). A grand hall of shame

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Kim Yu-na: ice skater, national icon?

Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na has won the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating for the second time. Probably more fuel for national pride/nationalism. I’m not really into ice skating, but she’s pleasant to watch, I’d say.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Discreet apocalypse: no surprises

No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)
No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)
No alarms and no surprises please (let me out of here)


Magrittes Golconde, 1953 (detail)

So you wonder who you are. You wake up in the morning at 7:15 AM. You need to have breakfast at 7:30 AM, you shower at 7:45 AM and get prepared until 8:20 AM, fortunately you dont live too far from your office plus you can be 5 or 10 minutes late, don’t overdo it no don’t do it again not too often or else, or else you’ll get some nasty comment about coming in late or be talked down to, or at worse get yelled at, because even if you work for a company that can manage its human capital, everything has to be in its own place and everyone needs to have their limits anyway (otherwise it’s a mess).

So you start asking yourself questions. You produce and you consume, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening. You forge your identity, you need to exist and work makes it possible. You live through work, you think about work, you dream about work, work makes you feel fulfilled because work makes you feel free even though work sometimes wears you down and you've stopped dreaming, you are only having nightmares. You are scared of losing your job because you know very well that if you were unemployed you would go through a major identity crisis, you would feel lost. You tell yourself you build things, and maybe yourself, you tell yourself you build your own well-being and the well-being of your children, you like it when people owe you. You dont like suffering and you dont like making other people suffer, you often understand how your productivity is a contribution to the greater good of the collectivity and you know how collectivity defines your functionality.

So you are afraid of the day after. You don’t like being noticed as much as you don’t like noticing others, you like to fit in and youre lucky because this year, these days, its fashionable, well grey is fashionable, you stumble along you reel along and you wag along the wet asphalt it is so slippery especially when you wear crepe sole shoes.

So you have so much to say. Things that are no heard, things that are not said, the things that cant be said but there you go you don’t care you really don’t give a fuck and you want it all to blow up once and for all so you can start all over again, from scratch. All this violence and all this disgust for the other, all this individualism and this materialism, and all this indifference and all this pressure.

Your life is a whole lot like your youthful dreams.

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I Am Legend: the world without us. A review


The project of a supersize adaptation of Richard Mathesons sci-fi novel (1954) has been one of Hollywoods hot potato games for the past ten years. Ridley Scott, among others, juggled and struggled with a version tailor made for Schwarzeneggers 12 pack. Bringing the film to life was no mean feat, especially considering the seminal quality of the book it is based on, in the field of modern horror fiction. Matheson widely considered to be the spiritual father of Romeros zombies (the filmmaker himself confessed deriving his inspiration from the novelist). Two adaptations were made, at a time when the threat of nuclear warfare haunted (creative and collective) imaginations: The Last Man On Earth, an odd American-Italian co-production by Sydney Salkow and Ubaldo Ragona (1964) with Vincent Price, and The Omega Man by Boris Sagal (1972), a half-forgotten flawed (and a tad outdated at that) gem that pitted Charlton Heston against a sect-ish group of hooded zombies, emphasized the sacrificial dimension of a man who managed to redeem what little remained of humankind: the hero became a new messiah.

Francis Lawrence, who signed a few music videos for Justin Timberlake and was the man behind the helm of Constantine (an aesthetic success, if not exactly a great movie), inherited the duty of directing the post-apocalyptic Robinson Crusoe castaway tale by Matheson.

The film is a blast on several grounds, but mostly stands out of the recent surge of sprinter-zombie flick fare by the straightforward but modest manner in which it puts the tight and slightly depressive storyline of the book on new tracks, far from standard action-movie pacing and storytelling. It manages to maintain for quite a while (considering it is after mainstream Hollywood stuff) a first-degree, fervent manner of wandering around the possibilities that the narrative opens up, lingering over the dry beauty, with patience and without forcing the , and developing an almost ideal (yes, too bad) dosage of effects.

The plot might seem paper-thin, and can hold in a couple of sentences, but works fine:

A mutated virus designed to cure cancer has gone wrong and decimated the human species. The 10% left alive have been infected with a form of ultra-hardcore rage and transformed into feral, nocturnal creatures that are not unlike vampires, and could actually pass off easily as clones of Klaus Kinski’s Nosferatu. A few (1% of humanity), were miraculously immune against the man-made disease but fell prey to the bald, cannibalistic, infected group. One man, Robert Neville, a military scientist, still entertains the fantasy of finding the cure and “fixing it. In the ruins of a megapolis (originally L.A., here: New York of course, I’ll come back to it), apparently the last survivor of the worldwide biochemical disaster, roams the deserted streets and avenues during the daytime, while the horde of mutants lurk in the lower, darker depths of the Big Apple, away from the sunlight. As night falls, the uglies come out and spread all over the city, forcing Neville to hide in his comfy barricaded Washington Square pad until the flesh-eating loonies get tired of howling at the moon.

What Lawrences film does best is setting a context, as the melancholy camera hovers over the desolation in long, amorphous tracking shots of New York, freeze-framed by the catastrophe. The return of nature and wild life through the cracks of the concrete bestows an almost pastoral, meditative character to the hour-long mise en place of the survivor’s day-to-day existence. The foremost achievement of I Am Legend may be in the lengths to which it expands/extends the post-doomsday chronicle of the lonely times of Robert Neville as a middle-aged idler, one of the main charms of the book. Unhurriedly, the film takes pains to construct a life of loafing around the narrow edge of reason and crack-up, but ordered like clockwork around a set of fixed habits, against the bleak broken down backdrop of the devastated cityscape: Neville pumps gas at an abandoned (of course) station, loots a Tribeca apartment for canned fish, runs some more errands, goes deer-hunting and back home, where he chain-watches dvds and recordings of the Today Show, the futile reminders/remains of an obliterated civilization. Will Smith turns out to be quite the ideal last man on earth, against all odds. Brainy (he’s a virologist after all), brawny (he works out), and musical (he listens to Bob Marley on his iPod), he provides a rock-solid emotional anchor for the viewer and could have carried the whole film on his shoulders, had he been given the chance.

One the most beautiful ideas of the film relies on a minimum of effects : to retain a sense of humanity and social connection, Will Smith talks to mannequins that he has arranged in a mockery of a typical urban life routine, as stand-in shoppers and clerks in a dvd store, where he borrows items every morning. Never had the actor appeared so isolated, devastated, worried, obsessive, desperate, etc. while pulling off the part of the nicest (and only) guy around.

This logic of restraint, patiently established in this magnificent, much talked-about opening, craftily paves the way for the moments of pure, delirious frenzy that drill holes in the vegetative framework: the few overheated (and somewhat underestimated) sequences of confrontation with the enraged ghouls, are impressive displays of digital, hyperkinetic brutality, in the wake of the revisionist trend that Snyders Dawn of the Dead and Boyles 28 Days Later initiated.
In the midst of this CGI fest, Lawrence has nevertheless shot an outstanding but sober in-the-dark scene reminiscent of the videogame Silent Hill (the most formally successful action sequence of the film).


The mushy sentimentality of the flashbacks that punctuate the narrative pales in comparison and constitute the most problematic part of the film: we catch brief glimpses of the chaotic evacuation of New York and terrified exodus that takes place, following the quarantine of the city. But these are less occasions of showing the magnitude of the disaster than familiarizing it (and neutralizing it) as a family drama by showing the protagonist with his wife and kids, in typical Hollywood fashion and establishing the emotional link with the nice little doggy, Samantha (always nice to have a good German shepherd around when you’re the last man on earth).

The film unfolds according to a logic of restraint, fully circumvallated by fear, and the very treatment of the massive zombie attacks, in the mode of pure sideration, underscores the contemporaneity of the tale with today's age of terror/terrorism. The post-9/11 dimension the film is constantly referred to (the devastated site of New York is baptized ground zero by Neville himself), not to mention the post-traumatic, guilt-ridden psychological profile of the character, which speaks volume about the clean break it makes with the 1970s formula - the hero as savior, and so on and so forth. Some might object to the ample rewriting of Mathesons original material, most notably the conclusion, but on the larger scale of the history of the genre, I Am Legend writes itself as a landmark that should not be neglected.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Where is he now?

Rove Resigns To Spend More Time In Shadows

The Onion

Rove Resigns To Spend More Time In Shadows

Rove claimed he never felt comfortable operating within the visible light spectrum

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Sunday, December 23, 2007


“Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like ways across the earth. For actually the earth had no ways to begin with, but when many men pass in one direction, a way is made.”

Lu Xun, My Old Home.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Hunting the homeless in Seoul

In the middle of the immense hall of the brand new Seoul station, stands a short man in an oversized parka. He drags his feet around but his eyes are sharp. As the sun sets, he walks among a crowd of businessmen on the move, on the make, and elegantly-dressed high-heeled women with their manicured hands on their cell phones: it is time for Kim Kun-oh, 41 years old, to watch for the isolated down-and-out who have come to find a bit of warmth in the station. Outside, its freezing cold.
Kim Kun-oh is also homeless. Except that he earns a living as a hunter of homeless. Every time he finds and introduces one of them to his local neighborhood association, an employment agency that comes to the rescue of the most destitute, he cashes in enough to buy a subway ticket, cigarettes, kimchi, a bowl of instant noodles, some soju.


Kim tries to find men who are neither too old or too damaged. Living in the margins in outdoors Seoul during the wintertime, when temperatures drop to - 20 °C, and threaten to freeze people dead, is indeed quite a challenge. Kim Kun-oh targets the strongest among the poor, the survivors. The mutual aid association proceeds to offer their services as day laborers for construction sites or other labor-intensive work in the underpasses of the city and the underground. Every day, the small organization offers work to 150-odd vagrants.
Kims task is to get four or five homeless a day. The station is the best spot, Kim Kun-oh explains. In the summer, its easy: theyre all over the place. But in winter, when hell almost freezes over, they arrive in small groups, late in the afternoon, unnoticed. They are fully aware of the discomfort and unease that they inspire in other people. The number of homeless in South Kore is growing at a worrying rate: ten years ago, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which is often called the IMF shock” in South Korea, kicked a lot of people out on the street... some of whom were educated but bankrupt businessmen, who found themselves unable to reimburse abysmal credit card debts. And not just in Seoul. In all of Korea. They lost everything, their job, their family, their home. The solitude of these men who have nowhere to go seems overwhelming. Kim Kun-oh says he wants to help them. Catholic missions are admittedly generous but have different objectives.
Furthermore, in Korean churches, there is a widespread, strong sense of defiance against some solidarity networks, suspected of exploiting poverty and desolation.
Regardless, day after day, unhurried, Kim Kun-oh finds the destitute in the countless underground passages in the vicinity of the former Seoul station. There, beneath the entrance of Nangdaemun market, in a tunnel that turns into a squat after dark, dozens of fortysomething homeless (some of them are hardly thirty years old), can be found, living a hand-to-mouth existence, and sleeping on the ice-cold ground in cardboard coffins. The youngest are the nouveaux pauvres of a country where the social gap is widening quickly and steadily.

Almost 10 million Koreans (out of a population of 49 million) live under the poverty line, left behind by a nonetheless continuous economic growth (according to an OECD report, the relative poverty rate was about 13% in 2000, i.e. a little more than 6 million people). It is now the country that has the highest suicide rate of all industrialized nations.
These days, groups of squatters pop up even in the upscale areas of the capital, like Songpa or Gangnam.
As the country prepares for a major change of leadership, after a decade of liberal rule (on Wednesday). Kim Kun-oh points the finger at the outgoing president Roh Moo-hyun : He promised the construction of public housing. He hasn't done anything.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Louis Menand on why we read diaries

“The impulse to keep a diary is to actual diaries as the impulse to go on a diet is to actual slimness. Most of us do wish that we were slim diarists. It’s not that we imagine that we would be happier if we kept a diary; we imagine that we would be better—that diarizing is a natural, healthy thing, a sign of vigor and purpose, a statement, about life, that we care, and that non-diarizing or, worse, failed diarizing is a confession of moral inertia, an acknowledgment, even, of the ultimate pointlessness of one’s being in the world. Still, rationally considered, what is natural or healthy about writing down what happened every day in a book that no one else is supposed to read? Isn’t there something a little O.C.D. about this kind of behavior? Writing is onerous (especially with an ultra-thin pencil)—writing feels like work because it is work—and, day by day, life is pretty routine, repetitive, and, we should face it, boring. So why do a few keep diaries, when diary-keeping is, for many, too much?
Three theories immediately suggest themselves. They are theories of the ego, the id, and the superego (and what is left, really?). The ego theory holds that maintaining a diary demands a level of vanity and self-importance that is simply too great for most people to sustain for long periods of time. It obliges you to believe that the stuff that happened to you is worth writing down because it happened to you. This is why so many diaries are abandoned by circa January 10th: keeping this up, you quickly realize, means something worse than being insufferable to others; it means being insufferable to yourself. People find that they just can’t take themselves seriously enough to continue. They may regret this—people capable of taking themselves seriously tend to go farther in life—but they accept it and move on to other things, such as collecting stamps.
The id theory, on the other hand, states that people use diaries to record wishes and desires that they need to keep secret, and to list failures and disappointments that they cannot admit publicly have given them pain. Diary-keeping, on this account, is just neurotic, since the last thing most people want to do with their unconsummated longings and petty humiliations is to inscribe them permanently in a book. They want to forget them, and so they soon quit writing them down. Most people don’t confess; they repress.
And the superego theory, of course, is the theory that diaries are really written for the eyes of others. They are exercises in self-justification. When we describe the day’s events and our management of them, we have in mind a wise and benevolent reader who will someday see that we played, on the whole, and despite the best efforts of selfish and unworthy colleagues and relations, a creditable game with the hand we were dealt. If we speak frankly about our own missteps and shortcomings, it is only to gain this reader’s trust. We write to appease the father. People abandon their diaries when they realize that the task is hopeless.
These are powerful, possibly brilliant theories, and they account for much. But, though they help explain why people generally don’t like to write diaries, they do not explain why people generally do like to read them. The obvious assumption is that we read diaries because we want to know what the diarist was really like as a person, but how plausible, even in the case of famous diarists, is this? It’s true that we read the diaries of Virginia Woolf because they were written by Virginia Woolf, who, in addition to being an interesting novelist, was an interesting character. But (a paradox of representation) we would actually feel that we had a more intimate sense of Virginia Woolf if we read about her in someone else’s diary. Woolf described from the outside by another person is likely to give us a more vivid picture of what Virginia Woolf was really like than Woolf described from the inside by herself. Introspection is not as reliable as observation. (That’s why we have shrinks.)
Inside, everyone sounds, more or less eloquently, like the same broken record of anxiety and resentment. It’s the outside, the way people look and the things they say, that makes them distinct.”

Louis Menand, “Woke Up This Morning”, The New Yorker, December 10th, 2007.
Full article: here

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cormac McCarthy: sanguinary sublime

“A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets . . . and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.”

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

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Monday, December 3, 2007

The Omega Man: last man on earth, the Charlton Heston version

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With the new adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I Am Legend coming up amidst the surge of post-apocalyptic narratives popping up here and there (vampires, zombies, and other creatures of the night and bite), perhaps in reaction/conjunction with growing anxiety about the future in general, and the sudden “World War III” rhetorical escalation in particular, my attention was caught by a similarly-themed film, The Omega Man (1971), by Boris Sagal. As it turned out, it happened to be an earlier cinematographic version of the book (preceded by The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price in the lead role in 1964).

Robert Neville roams the deserted, rubble-strewn streets of Los Angeles, the only survivor of a world war that has wiped out mankind. Neville, who has survived the nuclear and biological devastation, injected himself with an experimental vaccine. As the phrase goes, “the last man on earth is not alone”: a few people who call themselves “The Family” have been spared by the engineered plague, but have mutated into a nocturnal, regressive black-hooded lot, afflicted with a quasi-vampiric sensitivity to light, albinism, and homicidal tendencies. Neville fights a desperate, lonely war against the Family, from the safety and exile of his fortress-island of art and science, the derisory remains of a dead civilization. A dated, flawed film (Rosalind Cash's afro, the bad make-up job(s), the soundtrack, etc.) with an interesting edge (Charlton Heston).

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Epitaph: brief notes

Last month, at Columbia University, the Weatherhead East Asian Institute (WEAI) and the Center for Korean Studies organized a one-day interdisciplinary colloque dedicated to Korean pop culture and its impact/influence in East Asia and in the rest of the world, judiciously entitled “Korean Waves [note the plural],” featuring some of the most respected and prestigious names of academic research on contemporary Korean culture and cinema: Richard Pena, Darcy Paquet, Charles Armstrong, Nancy Abelmann, Kyu-hyun Kim, Kyung Hyun Kim, Wondam Paik, TV-host-turned-graduate-student Park Jungsook, and others.
Supported by the Korea Foundation and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, the symposium opened on Friday, November 16th, with the premiere screening of the horrow film Epitaph (Gidam), in presence of the directors, Bum-Shik Jung and Sik Jeong, who introduced their first work, arguably the most remarkable film of a somewhat dull year (for an industry that prosperred for so long both locally and in the rest of Asia). A masterpiece that brilliantly connects beauty and horror, history and psychology.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Brother One Cell: An American Coming of Age in South Korea’s Prisons

I will be sitting with Cullen Thomas at the Korea Society on Thursday November 29th, for a conversation on his book and Korean history, politics, and culture.

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In 1993, Cullen Thomas was a young man who wanted to see the world and South Korea was one of his first stops. Convicted of smuggling hashish and sentenced to 3 ½ years in Korean prison, the world he ended up seeing—one in which the Confucian customs of Korean society take on a harsh character—wasn’t the one he expected. Reading from his new memoir Brother One Cell: An American Coming of Age in South Korea’s Prisons (published by Viking in March 2007) and taking questions, Thomas will share the gritty reality of an American’s life in a foreign prison: its unforgettable pains and its unexpected and beautiful lessons.

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Cullen Thomas grew up in Port Washington, New York and graduated from Binghamton University in 1992 with a degree in English. While teaching English in South Korea in 1993, Thomas was convicted on a narcotics charge and served a 3 ½ year sentence. Released in 1997, he returned to New York, working as a writer, teacher and editor of The Princeton Review. From 2002 to 2005 Thomas served as a staff writer and assistant editor at Current Biography. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Salon, Rhythm, Chamber Music Magazine, and the Korea Times.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Discreet apocalypse: untitled

A man who was tired of being true to himself decided to deny himself. He had had enough of himself.
It is one thing to decide to deny one’s self, it is quite another to actually do it.
Becoming a traitor to one’s self is not within the reach of everyone.
To cut a long story short, he tried and tried... over and over again, and eventually did it. He betrayed himself.
He was beyond recognition.
He used to be one dirty rotten bastard. Now he was a good man. He used not to like anyone. Now he was becoming some kind of saint. He used not to forgive himself, and now basked in compassion.
He was reconciled.
It seemed to him as though his life was heading straight for a dark, deep, damp undergrowth.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Book 2.0?

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Anounced earlier this week in New York by CEO Jeff Bezos, the Amazon “Kindle” (strange echo of Farenheit 451 when you think about it) is coming out. They call it a “reader”. It looks like a small tablet, permanently connected to internet and can hold as many as 200 works in its hard drive.

Access is made possible via Whispernet, a high-speed data network related to Sprint, which allows you to connect everywhere, and is therefore not geographically restricted to WiFi access points. Subscription, which is normally 60 dollars a month, should be free.
As for the object itself, it weighs a little less than 300 grams (even after years of living in the US, I still have to use the metric system), the screen is tad bigger than 15 cm. The device comes with a battery that allows 30 hours of continuous reading, a keyboard to annotate the texts, exchange emails, google stuff and surf the www. Provided by e-link , the display technology is the same as Sony Reader. Instead of adopting new (and better) standards, Amazon has unfortunatly stuck to the Mobipocket (a French firm it acquired in 2005) format. In terms of look and design, it's not exactly uber-cute, but Steven Levy who tried it for a few weeks (his feature article is on the cover of Newsweek) says people who handled it liked it, so why not. It also provides an email address through which you can receive documents, which means you can read them on the device (but the supported formats are noticeably scarce). Not only can books be downloaded (within about one minute), but also magazines and newspapers (Le Monde, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal) and even blogs (for which they’ll charge a fee, which is not making everybody happy, far from it) . The texts stored on the device are searchable, the same way as they are on internet. The first chapters of most available books are free.
A few testers have already reviewed the product: BoingBoing and PaidContent whose conclusion is kind of interesting: “Bezos’ speech had most of the audience pretty enthusiastic about the device—the problem is the gap between the description and the device itself.” Joseph Weisenthal writes becore concluding: “With some improvements to the display and a more intuitive navigation system, it could become an attractive product, even at the price” [$400... not exactly a paltry sum, to say the least].

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Predictably, the launch of this new electronic device has stirred quite a bit of controversy and is generating a lot of talk about the future of the book.
In the current issue of Newsweek (it hit the headlines) Steven Levy emphasizes the numerous assets of the connected book, the interconnected texts, the book as process rather than product, and so on and so forth. He quotes from several sources – among which/whom Kevin Kelly.
As sharp as his usal self, Nicholas Carr observes that Jeff Bezos doesn’t say anything about these futuristic ramblings (that Carr seems to despise) and gives a very classical (conservative?) idea of his love for books when he writes about the launch of the Kindle:
“I love slipping into a comfortable chair for a long read - as I relax into the chair, I also relax into the author’s words, stories, and ideas. The physical book is so elegant that the artifact itself disappears into the background. The paper, glue, ink, and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author’s world.”
For Carr, there is no doubt that Kevin Kelly is wrong when he writes that the major virtue of the Kindle is that it is always connected and that “this ability to interact, manipulate, shape, cut, clip, annotate, and mash up is what will keep books great.” On the contrary, Carr declares that “the only thing that will keep books great is respect for the individual author, the individual reader, and the sanctity of the book as a closed container.”

As far I am concerned, if I were to buy the device, it would be out of desire to find a type of pleasure that can be compared with the one Bezos talked about, and also to see new modalities of reading emerge, and concomitantly new forms of literature.
The extraordinary perennity and strength of the book comes largly from the fact that it has refined, tailored, improved, developed for more than five centuries. The opportunity to reinvent it doesn’t occur every day.

It’s not for lack of attempts but the e-book has never taken off. The book as object is a formidable challenge. The question is therefore: how can Amazon succeed where Sony and everybody else have failed.
Perhaps because it is precisely Amazon we’re talking about. They have the means and the audacity to change their own business model. The goal seems to transform the sales of books-as-objects into books-as-flows. “This isn’t a device, it’s a service” Bezos said in the pages of Newsweek. This is why we can speak about “Book 2.0”.
Kindle will start off with a library of 88.000 titles. Being able to download them all at any time is a huge advantage over previous e-book-related ventures. Some people have even mentioned the possibility of an agreement with the chain of W hotels, which would make it possible for customers to borrow (or rent) a machine to read the books of their pick. Quite an improvement over the rental of dime-a-dozen action-packed flicks or pornography.
The cost really is the main question/concern. At 400 dollars a piece, you can hesitate between buying a Kindle, a Wii, two Negroponte laptops (read here, a Nokia N800 or an EEE, the latest ultra-light Asus notebook.) Besides, these machines allow you to do a whole bunch of other things.
The main and true problem of the pricing has less to do with the device itself than with service and the cost of each item. The available titles at the time of the release are around $10. Amazon stands out of the mass of publishers that still sell e-books at the same price as their paper counterparts. If you bear in mind that many books published these days are systematically dgitalized, and that storage and shipping are practically free, it would be natural to expect many readers to demand even lower costs.

Part of the success or failure of the Kindle is at stake on this particular point. But this is not the most important aspect. It could contribute to the success of e-books and sure enough, some attention should be paid to this.
The most important thing is that hundreds of gadgets with the capacity to connect to internet and a screen wider than a cell phone’s are scheduled to come out in the following months. The iPod Touch is an interesting case since it has extraodinary legibility and also comes with a wireless connecting capacity, so that it’s easy to imagine that iTunes might consider offering cheap e-books – Steve Jobs has understood the importance of pricing every single item. this could be the beginning of a tipping point.
The future of the book is pretty much happening now... or so it seems

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Death of an American writer: Norman Mailer, 1923-2007

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Norman Mailer, the bad conscience and public accuser of all things American, died yesterday, Saturday November 10th, at age 84, succumbing to renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital. Author of about thirty books, twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize, he was one of the most flamboyant protagonists of the American intellectual scene, decade after decade.
Born Norman Kingsley, on January 31, 1923 in Long Branch, New Jersey, in a middle-class Jewish family, Mailer, a brilliant student, entered Harvard in 1939, where he graduated in aeronautical engineering four years later, fought in the Pacific during World War II. In 1948, he published The Naked and the Dead, a war novel whose raw realism won instant critical and popular acclaim: the book was translated in twenty languages
Later on, the writer became known as a critical and subversive observer of the US, in works dealing with the ever-changing flow of current affairs and his own life's: An American Dream (1965), Why Are We In Vietnam? (1967), The Armies of the Night (Pulitzer prize, 1969) and Prisoner of Sex (1971). Most of his books stirred some degree of controversy: from Marilyn (1973), a novelized biography of Marilyn Monroe, to The Executioner's Song (Pulitzer prize, 1980), an epic, sprawling narrative based on more than 300 interviews of death-row inmate Gary Gilmore, considered by many to be his masterpiece, and of the best illustrations of his journalistic work, a style of literary reportage mixing fiction and nonfiction.

As years went by, Norman Mailer built his own biographical legend, that of a turbulent literary figure, basking in self-complacency and scandal: a brawler and a boxer, a big mouth and a hard drinker, heavy smoker, and inveterate philanderer, he got married six times – stabbed one of his spouses, Adele in 1960. His last wife was painter Norris Church –, made five awesomely bad movies, ran for mayor of New York (not his smartest move), recited pornographic poetry (no comment) or publicly insulted fellow writer Gore Vidal, among (many) other things...
The co-founder of the Village Voice never stopped writing. And he proceeded to climb more mountains: his penultimate book, The castle in the Forest, released early 2007, is a novel about Hitler's youth, told by a demon, an underling of Satan. His last book, An Uncommon Conversation, was also his last-ditch affirmation of an obstinate life-wish.

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Suspension points

Suspicion point #1:

“I.” is hardly more than a fragment of language.

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Booknotes: Chung Young-iob, "Korea Under Siege, 1876-1945"

Chung Young-iob

Korea under Siege, 1876-1945

This book examines the transformation of the independent and isolated Korean economy into a dependent colonial economy during the period between 1876 and 1945, focusing on capital formation, economic development, and structural changes. During this 70-year period, Korea underwent three distinct stages of economic transformation: the traditional economy before the opening of the country to the outside world in 1876, the transitional economy between 1876 and 1904 under its own sovereignty, and the colonial economy under Japan from 1905-1945. This book studies the combination of changing circumstances, approaches, and experiences in the country, such as the propensities to work, produce, invest, save, and entrepreneurship, as well as institutional and economic reforms that took place during the three stages of development. It also investigates the level and distribution of income and consumption (standard of living), which reveal a number of significant patterns and characteristics of capital formation, economic development, and structural changes in the Korean economy.”

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sex with the enemy: 'Lust, Caution'

Born in Shanghai in 1920, writer/novelist/screenwriter, Eileen Chang (張愛玲, The Rice Sprout Song, Red Rose and White Rose) died in Los Angeles in 1995. She was nicknamed by a few critics the Chinese Jane Austen (ah, the demon of comparison, but coincidentally, Ang Lee did adapt Sense and Sensibility for the screen). Many of her works described everyday life in Shanghai and Hong Kong under the Japanese rule, while scrutinizing the problematic relations between men and women, her short story Lust, Caution (Si jie) provides the literary inspiration for this brilliant and brutal erotic thriller, the first film that Ang Lee has made in China (since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

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Expectations (including mine) were certainly high for Ang Lee’s new film (which was awarded a Golden Lion in Venice, despite dividing viewers and reviewers) especially after the massive popular and critical success of the gay cowboy drama Brokeback Mountain. With its predecessor, Lust, Caution shares some of the thematic elements, most notably the forbidden love relation. This is where the similarity ends, though. If Ang Lee seems to deal with the same matters here, at least superficially, he does so in a sensibly different manner, and with a more freeform (some would say, loose) cinematic fabric than his previous film.

In many ways, the superb opening sequence defines and predetermines the rules and nature of the game that serves as a metaphor for the film as a whole, writing the fate of the main characters in advance, and single-handedly making the film worth a watch: a metaleptic moment during which four chipao-swathed ladies swiftly handle tiles in what appears to be a very intense mahjong game (yet, not a bead of sweat is dropped), while their expressions give out volumes of mute tension, beyond the banter and the bustle of their adroit hands expertly dealing and slapping down the pieces. It soon appears that the youngest of the players, Mak Tai-Tai (Tang Wei) is involved with Yee (Tony Leung), whose wife (Joan Chen) regulaly hosts the social/mental games. On the most banal level, this sequence reveals a beneath-the-surface type of hinter-drama, stoically hidden behind a casual bourgeois décor. More importantly, like all games, the incipit casts the roles of the losers and the winners, a world of shifting identities where something, someone will lose something, him/herself, somehow or other. It is then revelead, in the following scene (a noir-ish French café sequence), that Mrs. Mak, supposedly a rich and bored businesman’s wife, really is Wong Chia-Chi, a young university student turned actress/seductress that might have already long lost her cool, and abandoned her cause in the arms of a villain, as the past flashes back into focus, making it clearer how she came to this.

From then on, Lust, Caution offers a poignant and passionate spectacle that slowly stages the passage à l'acte (in both the sexual and the criminal sense of the expression) by which the loss (of identity, control, caution, etc.), necessarily devastating, will take place and strip the characters from everything, but suffers a bit from the syndrome of over-stretching (the sex starts one hour and a half into the film). A little like in Hou Hsia-Hsien’s Good Men Good Women, (just a little bit) Lust, Caution gives the viewer a glimpse of the lives and times of a small group of students who like the stage and their country (or the idea of it), and get naively infatuated with the idea of killing Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), a high-level official and traitor during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, from 1937 to 1942, at the onset of World War II, before closing up on the dangerous liaison of the spy and the opaque Yee, which is really what Lee seems to be interested in, first and foremost. The narrative proceeds to follow the young (and not so bright) idealists as they decide to take the leap from theatrical representation to political action. Lead by nationalist enthusiast Kuang Yu-Min (a somewhat bland Wang Lee-Hom, famous Chinese pop star), the group amateurishly organizes the murder of the local collaborator, who’s in charge of interrogating (and torturing) his rebellious compatriots. Acting in the name of an ill-defined greater good first, the troupe finds itself back on track a few years later, after the first phase fizzles out and a man gets lamentably and clumsily stabbed by the terrorist wannabees. This time, they come under the stricter supervision of an older resistance leader. Again, in the name of the cause, Chia-Chi accepts to assume the part of the lethal weapon, worldly Tai-Tai: innocence, illusions, and lives will be lost.

To bring down the bodyguard-surrounded Yee, Chia-Chi has to play the role of the sophisticated married woman to win his trust (like a con artist), his heart (like a courtesan) and insinuate herself into his inner ring. One thing leading to another, the young woman winds up surrendering to the game of seduction and letting herself be seduced by her “victim”, and perhaps by the game itself as she succumbs to the passion of playing and being played, which leads her (them?) astray and afar, further and further from her comfort zone, into the dark territories where desire and death lurk at every corner.

Ang Lee’s mastery of the twists and turns of a tortuous narrative is impressive. The most fascinating aspect of the film is the certainly the way he captures auras and intangible atmospheres, the lying eyes and the unspoken truths, as costumes (and masks?) eventually come off and the flesh gives way to an ecstasy that wreaks havoc on the moral certainties of the unlikely couple. The filmmaker relies more on the skin-deep ambiences than dialogues (mostly in Mandarin, with snippets of Shanghaiese) to convey meaning. The result of this is a handful of very compelling sequences, particularly the erotic scenes, in which Lee captures the sense of a relationship based on an intricate mixture of fear and desire.

As in Brokeback Mountain, the main achievement of the film lies in the outstanding performance of the cast, beautifully enhanced by Rodrigo Prieto’s (who is working with Lee for the second time) dark and cold cinematography. Beyond all formal aesthetic considerations, it is truly the the two leads, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Tang Wei, who breathe life into the film and bestow its true dramatic dimension, and therefore, value on a narrative that wouldn’t transcend the conventions of the wartime spy drama plot otherwise. Leung, who has built a career on showing an incredible range of deadpan-but-hurt-deep-inside faces, from Andrew Lau’s crime thriller masterpiece, Infernal Affairs, to Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love and 2046, offers here a first-rate performance as he explores, through the taciturn character, a broad spectrum of emotions. Alternatively surly and sour, always sinister, and sometimes suddenly flaring up, Leung gives an excellent countrapuntal réplique to the spectacular newcomer Tang Wei, who shines through the film.

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Despite the heavy historical dimension of the narrative, the filmmakers hardly lingers over the context and skips most of the ideological and espionage small talk (reduced to the ponderous and midly prepostorous “China will not fail” that set off the intrigue), leaving it as a mere backdrop or pre-text, to really get down to the business of characterization. At 136 minutes, the film is mostly structured around the psychological joust that sketches out between the lovers, who discover and uncover each other in a spinning arena of mixed emotions and contradictory feelings. It takes some time for the pieces of the puzzle to come together and the impatient viewer might find this very lengthy and laborious in the end.
Despite what some viewers and critics have seen as problem of pace, Lust, Caution is still a fascinating piece that makes a consummate shows of the fatal strategies that are set up along the way, in parallel to the march of history. Progressively and painstakingly, the process of sexual seduction develops into the locus and sole engine of pure emotion. In fact, James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang’s scenario takes meticulous and perhaps excessive care not to rush anything, building up the emotions into a surprising apex: the quasi-rape of the ingénue, who nevertheless gives in to the ruthless and sadistic thrusts of Mr. Yee, with careless abandon in the heat/paroxysm of the moment.

The thriller aspect of the narrative, once the characters lose themselves to each other, become ancillary and should probably have effaced itself from the screen to leave more space for these thrills (even though they come aplenty). Indeed, the film truly finds its raison d’être in the sexual duality of the two protagonists, one that admits no third parties (or loyalties for that matter)
In Brokeback Mountain, the love story took center stage and the sex was almost peripheral. Here, things work the other way around. Sex, raw, real (visibly unsimulated), and shot in the most carnal manner possible, accounts for the psychological undoing of the characters. It constructs the labyrinthic tale of a steamy/stormy liaison in/by which the couple fucks each other (and themselves) to their doom.
Nothing short of fascinating in this respect, Lee’s Lust, Caution is a film that adeptly blends the sexual and the sublime, favoring the personal at the expense of the historical. Strangely, the conclusion seems to say, feelings are not enough to sustain the blend... and Mr. Yee’s eyes let a few helpless tears bleed and concur. Love’s labour’s lost, said somebody.

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Technical info:
Production Company: Mr. Yee Productions LLC
Executive Producer: Song Dai, Ren Zhong Lun, Darren Shaw
Producer: Bill Kong, Ang Lee, James Schamus
Screenplay: Wang Hui Ling, James Schamus, based on a short story by Eileen Chang
Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto
Editor: Tim Squyres
Production Designer: Pan Lai
Sound: Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Principal Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Tang Wei, Joan Chen, Wang Leehom

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Sound of Ecstasy

I had the chance to attend this event yesterday at the American Museum of Natural History:

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The Sound of Ecstasy and Nectar of Enlightenment

Buddhist Ritual Song & Dance From Korea
Celebrated by Buddhist Monks from the Young San Preservation Group

The program notes redacted by my colleagues are pretty interesting.

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Brief notes on Nanking

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Directed by Bill Guttentag & Dan Sturman

Saw it yesterday night.
Bleak catalogue of war atrocities.
Dramatized, dead voices played by high-profile celebrities: Mariel Hemingway, Edward James Olmos, Michelle Krusiec, mingled with the testimonies of the survivors.
Re-enactment of the tragedy.
Manifest desire to make the event, unique, irreversible, non-repeatable.
And yet, echoes everywhere: the Holocaust, the Armenians, Darfur, and so on...
The same, yet always different: human horror.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Innocence or intimacy: if spoken, they become instantly, irremediably spurious.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Discreet apocalypse: Prisons, a priest and magazines.

As a journalist, he felt like the archetypal abjurer.
The project was a complex one indeed. He seemed miles away from completion, stuck as he was in this sojourn of commissioned writing. He was taking way too long and not taking it too well - he wasn't the onlye one. He was integrating data, methods or methodologies, new and entire areas of vocabularies to translate. He had to comply with an ever-growing list of tedious constraints and was losing himself in an inferno of constant re-writing, which is another way of not writing at all. In short, it was no pushover.
It felt as if all purpose, his life itself, was cancelled. No, it was not easy.
“In a nutshell, not speaking can be explained this way.”, he thought. This doesn't make much sense at all.
His silence was a series of displacements: in other words, no answer to anyone.
Yet, he really hated writing for others: magazines, papers, even this fucking priest. He hated it with a passion.
The sheer force of his frustration was helpful though.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Music of a world: Mesopotamia, Munir Bashir

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Along with Mohamad Qasabgi, Farid al-Atrash and Sharif Haydar, Munir Bashir (Arabic: منير بشي, Syriac: ܡܘܢܝܪ ܒܫܝܪ) is rightly considered to be in the pantheon of the best 'ud- (or oud) players of all time.
Born in the city of Mosul (northern Iraq) in 1930 (he passed away in Budapest in 1997), the musician lived to create a unique, contemplative idiom that established him as the absolute father/master of the solo lute, the matrix from which originated all the new generations of oudists. This is exactly what emerges from the two cds of Mesopotamia: Bashir gives an astounding display of inspiration and technical mastery, moving between the hieratic maqamat (مقام), the traditional melodic scales/modal structures of Arabic music, and solo improvisation, for which he always had a propensity. As he wrenches the instrument out of the ruts where years of being relegated to the rank of accompanying second fiddle have thrown it into, he returns to the roots and the prestigious lineage of the taqsim (instrumental improvisation) masters. The performance, recorded in his Baghdad studio in 1987 is an essential document of a music.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Martial Solal, "seul", solar in New York

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Describing the Borgesian pianist requires an accumulation of adjectives: explosive, unpredictable, feverish, chatty, witty... the words are there, available, yet inefficient.
Listening to Martial Solal, in one (strict, strong) sense, implies an encounter - with a vivid anxiety, and a playful virtuosity that tells no other tale than itself.

Lovely and scholarly, its self-contained, half-sketched narratives suggests some kind of danger is here, and there, always delayed, and the heat is omnipresent, terrible, full of snares and traps. After so many flip-flops and surprising breaks.

Perfectly plural rhythms, out of joint/whack elusive forms, rapid-fire transition-free transformation: this is the quintessential music of whim.

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum: a review

Directed by Paul Greengrass. Produced by Patrick Crowley, Frank Marshall, Paul L. Sandberg & Doug Liman. Written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi, Tom Stoppard (uncredited). Music by John Powell. Cinematography: Oliver Wood. Editing by Christopher Rouse

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The Bourne Ultimatum brings to a (perhaps provisional) closure a film trilogy that is, all things considered, way superior to the popular fiction churned out by Robert Ludlum, on which Bourne #3 is loosely based. Jason Bourne, the amnesiac operative hunted down by a variety of ruthless hitmen sent after him by the secret services (an obscure cell of the CIA, that is inferred to be his former employer), is going to find out his origin. A series of relatively conventional events/incidents structures the film and makes it flow forward, while taking it to a more and more abstract dimension. In this abstraction lies the real value of this third episode.
Predator and prey, the protagonist of The Bourne Ultimatum, played by Matt Damon, is a character that makes his way at full speed towards the total conscience of an autonomy acquired in the violence of his (re-)actions and the bare instinct of survival. It is also the ecstatic affirmation of an individual self-determination, a personal autonomy that is perfectly capable of defying and defeating modern systems of tracking, fluidly escaping the multiple eyes of omnipresent cameras.
From Moscow to New York, traveling through London and Tangier, the narrative and it eponymous protagonist progress in a world without frontiers, a realm of simultaneity and ubiquity. The vertiginous feeling of being locked in a global enclosure dominates the film, made up of three long and exciting chases sequences de (an outstanding stakeout sequence in Waterloo Station, London, in which Bourne acts as an embedded remote-control metteur-en-scène, a street-and-roof chase in Tangiers, an ultimate car chase showdown in New York).

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During the peaks of the film, Bourne must achieve the impossible : stay hidden at the heart of a world of absolute transparency and visibility, in the midst of a gigantic panopticon, a network system built with the means of modern technology (satellite surveillance, computers, cell phones, microchips).
This third episode of Bourne’s adventures in the realm of international espionage is the one that probably pushes the sensation of paranoia the farthest. It gives the sense of a reality entirely under control/surveillance. That new possibilities offered by modern instrumentation makes the conventions of cinematographic action obsolete is a challenge that the film takes up lives up to, in a splendid manner.
The aesthetic parti pris adopted by Paul Greengrass, which increases the credibility and verisimilitude of the events that unfold on the screen, beyond all likelihood, is a peculiar one. The much talked-about hand-held camera work undermines the stability (certainty) of the regard, is shaky, making impossible for the viewer to find, in this confusion, an undeniable center/focus for the unfolding of the action. What could be considered a simple gimmick, or a stylistic preciosity is here a potent addition to the intensity of the suspense and forms a core element of an ultra-kinetic definition of cinema.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

White Light, Black Rain

zeugt für den

Nobody can demand
more soft-hurting
than you
and yet
you offer your soul
against the gray.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nettle and Ivy

And we,
blades of grass biding their time,
weed growing betweeen the lines
of Mycenaean stones
destroy the long-standing concrete

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tariq Krim

One among many:

Tariq Krim Le nouveau gourou du Web
LE MONDE | 16.05.07
© Le

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Discreet apocalypse: H.

He knew it was not allowed.
But God. She smelt like heaven.
There was no denying it.

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Friday, February 16, 2007


The power of geometric data: perhaps it was installed in transversal signs.
Irreversible, it was blue and the result of temporary retinal inputs.

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Discreet apocalypse: the kayagum player

So she was there. Playing, poised. The demonstration was brilliant, as he knew it would be.
She looked at him, unblinking, smiling an unambiguous polite smile.
They had a very polite talk. Then she asked: "Would you mind if I..."
She wrote down the address of her hotel, a few blocks away from there.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

I Just Didn't Do It

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Seto Asaka and Suo Masayuki at the Japan Society on Wednesday, January 9th
for the premiere of I Just Didn't Do it

The remains of this film: not so much the intricacies and (of course) absurdities of the Japanese legal system, kafkaesque (do I need to add?), as the cold, distant (haughty?) beauty of the actress, radiant beyond the severity of the lawyer uniform.

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Monday, January 8, 2007

Discreet apocalypse: Issey Miyake

Her name was Heather. He had noticed the name on the tag the very minute he had laid his eyes on her, while she was standing behind the counter and other sales clerks were fluttering around.
She looked severe and professional to an extreme degree. Then she smiled. She was tall and stunning, with very pretty eyes behind austere glasses. Her accent was distinctly Korean, with a tinge of something else, haughty, vaguely snobbish in a subtle and not unattractive manner.
She asked for his name, and where he lived, quite casually. And she smiled some more.

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The Host

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Reviewing, Revenir, Reverie

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While listening to Hwang Byung-Ki's music

A few words about reviewing. The English word suggests that the activity should be done in retrospect, with the benefit of hindsight.

Looking back like Orpheus or Lot’s wife, over the shoulder, the reviewer returns to a cultural experience, and sees... what exactly? a more general picture perhaps, if s/he sees anything at all. What is seen then is the outline, the contours of the object or the event. Does it mean the re-view is the best picture, the most revealing one? Maybe by then, the object is too far. Maybe, but isn't the first sight too close for comfort? The re-view is essentially the luxury of a farther look, which tries to bridge a gap and bring some kind and sense of proximity with a stranger, a foreigner to a particular experience.

A review is a tiny piece of personal mindscape that wishes to be seen, read, and understood as an account of another's experience. It covertly wishes to become part of the publication process as well and be, in the best of cases, a valuable, aesthetic experience of its own, however secondary.

A review is second-hand intimacy, because the thinking is second hand. In a way, it always comes too late, and in the form of a rough familiarity with an experience that is given second thoughts and value. The evaluative aspect of the review is merciless underlined by the French "critique", which refers to both the perpetrator and his/her (mal)practice.The present reviewer has to admit he probably inherited those critical traits and in particular the roughness of the flippant judge. Wasn’t Paris the shepherd, after all, the first reviewer? He nonetheless hopes his off-handed attempts at practicing writing via writings will be taken in the same lightness of spirit as they were written.

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A draft of the history of manga

As most people probably know, since the recent worldwide spread of the genre, the word manga designates Japanese comic books, originally meant for the domestic readership. They are usually published in the form of series, in black and white - most of the time. Each episode is either a stand-alone, self-contained sequence, or is marked by a progression in the storyline(s). Compared with comic books from other countries, one of the main differences seems to be in the commercial scale and therefore, the financial weight of this specific market. Many manga series sell one million copies each week, while in the West for example, a comic book usually reaches this figure in a year. A manga can be as long as 50, sometimes 70 volumes, called Tankōbon (単行本), each of which being a hundred-odd pages. Readers may have a considerable influence on the length of a series and the stories themselves.

Mass produced, manga are first published as 20-40 page episodes in “anthology” magazines printed on very low-cost newsprint paper. In this phone-book format, they constitute, to a large extent, disposable commodities. They can usually be read in a few hours, the time of a commute ride to work, or school. Once read (and maybe forgotten), it is not rare to leave one’s copy on the seat for the next train passenger to consume and enjoy. There are manga magazines at practically every corner of the street in Japan – in konbini (convenience stores), department stores, specialized kissatten (coffee shops), and of course in bookstores that generally devote them a whole floor (as is the case in the Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku). There is also an abundance of works related to manga, such as drawing and illustration books, and special editions of best-selling series. These premium versions, printed on high-quality paper and known as aizōban (愛蔵版: literally, “favorite edition”) are on the other end of the commercial production. Hard-covered and in larger formats, they are sold as valuable items, rather than ready-to-read pulp.In Japan, comic books do not necessarily follow a cultural trend. Rather, they can generate or be the “mainstream” and inspire other realms of creative and artistic production, from anime, commercials, cinema to philosophy (Azuma Hiroki), design and art (Murakami Takashi). Creating manga has been an important stage in many artists' careers. This was the case of Miyazaki Hayao who became a highly respected author of animation films, to mention a particularly exemplary success. The imagery of manga has also been a rising influence on Western filmmaking, marketing and art.

The word manga first came into use in the 19th century, during the Tokugawa (or Edo) era (1603-1867, when woodblock print artist Hokusai (1760-1849) coined the compound-word by associating the kanji (Chinese character) 漫, man, which means “loose”, “random” or “vulgar” and 画, ga, which means “picture”, or “brush-stroke” to describe the type of characters he had developed for his long-running 15-volume sketchbook Hokusai manga (北斎漫画) published between 1814 and 1878. Woodblock-sequence storytelling had been a respected artistic practice in Japan for two century already. These stories were initially conceived for the educated samurai elite, and represented an exclusive form of art. But later on, during the 18th century, the Japanese “middle-class” (bourgeois and merchants known in Japanese as 町人, chōnin, which means “townspeople”) grew in political power and wealth, thus gaining access to these stories whose circulation was hitherto circumscribed to the upper class. Quite fond of the genre indeed, the merchants’ new affluence made the stories a popular variety of entertainment, in the strongest sense of the word. These woodblocks arranged in sequences were not entirely unlike modern-day manga and constitute a clearly identifiable precursor.

After the Meiji Restoration, which was also, and more fundamentally, a revolution, Japan opened the doors of its culture to foreign influences, which came to change and shape the technology and lifestyle profoundly and in many ways, irremediably. From that moment on, manga generated a newfound interest as they started incorporating Western style of drawing to the usual aspects of the genre, undoubtedly laying the foundations of the comic books we know.

Tezuka Osamu (手塚治虫) can be credited, as it were, for the single-handed creation of the manga as we know them in 1947. His work was to start a whole new and perennial visual pop culture. Before Tezuka started publishing his stories, reading manga was essentially a pre-college activity, and therefore considered a category of entertainment mainly intended for adolescents and children. But the artist elaborated a more dynamic style of illustration, and explored different angles and frames to structure his stories, taking his cue from cinematic techniques he had seen in German and French films of the time. Comic books were basically a two-dimensioned narrative space, similar to a theatrical stage where actors appear laterally from both sides of the wings. The publication of Tezuka’s second but first published series, Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island), was a turning point in the history of manga, or rather, it announced its first steps of its own history. The scenario of the New Treasure Island, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s eponymous novel, fascinated the readers at the time – some of whom had long stopped reading comic books. It is no exaggeration to say the manga phenomenon started from this particular story. Since then, it has not ceased expanding and diversifying.The manga project is an attempt at presenting the portraits of manga artists who, in addition to their fame in Japan and other places, have innovated, inspired, challenged the conventions and gone beyond the frontiers of the genre they create in.

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